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Fulldome: Marketing and Branding Part 1

Immersive “digital dome” theater has been with us for a good decade and is now well established to the tune of several hundred installations (including portable domes). It now has a trade group dedicated to digital domes: IMERSA, formally established in cooperation with IPS and the help of generous founding sponsors at Chicago’s IPS 2008 meeting last July.

As IMERSA’s director of communications, it’s my job to help spread the word about fulldome, not just within the planetarium community but also to its other developing markets in entertainment and education. My two decades’ experience as a trade journalist, editor and publicist focused on visitor attractions, theater technology and special venue cinema have given me a window into these intersecting markets.

I see digital dome technology as a breakthrough medium for out-of-home visitor experiences, with a vast creative potential only fractionally realized. Its power to deliver unique, compelling experiences provides a versatile digital canvas that invites invention.

But fulldome is also promising from a business standpoint, having a diverse, international vendor community working together to grow the medium and the market, and a significant installation base that makes it appealing to distributors and content creators alike. I believe that, as it moves into its second decade of development, immersive dome theater will begin to realize its potential in ways both inspiring and unexpected.

In this column, we will look at how the art, science and technology of this exciting medium are extending beyond what has traditionally been considered planetarium programming, to attract, educate and entertain visitors and create revenues. We will share practices, developments and viewpoints from inside and outside the planetarium community. This inaugural article begins a discussion of digital dome branding and marketing.

The Gates: Branding Evolution

Without a doubt, it would be useful to have a catchy term denoting fulldome that the public would instantly recognize. It would make fulldome easier to promote to potential new customers as well as to audiences. However, an overarching name has yet to emerge. In lieu of such a term, branding is nonetheless taking place in digital dome theaters. Some have adopted names that attempt differentiation from planetariums, such as CyberDome, Imaginarium, Virtuarium and Immersive Projection Theater. Others use branding that focuses more on content, guest experience or the character of the institution.

“In Denver, we’ve used it to redefine, for the local audience, what a planetarium is,” says Dan Neafus (right), director of the Gates Planetarium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He sees branding happening organically as young people are exposed to the medium. 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Image: Planetarium Interior, copyright Tim Griffith

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